Hundreds injured as Romanian protests turn violent

Sergio Conner
August 13, 2018

The anti-government protest in Bucharest Friday drew tens of thousands Romanians from overseas and local residents who demanded the government resign over moves to change laws that critics say would make it harder to prosecute corruption. Some people lobbed rocks, bottles and smoke bombs at riot police.

President Klaus Iohannis, a critic of the left-wing government, condemned "the brutal intervention of riot police".

"Any form of violence is unacceptable", he said.

Thousands gathered in central Bucharest on Saturday evening, some carrying Romanian flags, with demonstrators insisting they would not be cowed from protesting despite Friday's violence.

Friday's protests were organised and promoted by groups of Romanians working overseas, angry at what they say is entrenched corruption, low wages and attempts by the PSD to weaken the judiciary in one of the European Union's most corrupt states.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country now holds the European Union rotating presidency, criticised the violence, which also saw a cameraman for Austria's public broadcaster hurt. No official figures were available.

Other protesters were seen throwing paving slabs at the police, who responded with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon.

Security forces held back this time as people chanted "Down with the government!" and "Justice, not corruption!" Others threw bottles and stones at police.

Social media footage shows the protesters assembled on a large street scrambling as the police begin giving chase and shooting tear gas to control the crowd.

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More than 400 people required medical assistance, the emergency intervention agency ISU said, including two riot police who became separated from their unit.

There were also several arrests outside the seat of government in the capital.

About 15,000 people rallied in front of the government headquarters in the capital on Sunday, whistling, blowing vuvuzelas and shouting "Corruption kills!"

On Friday, more than 50,000 people took to the streets against what they described as entrenched corruption and low wages. A campaign calling for the protest was launched on Facebook.

Peaceful protests have repeatedly been held since the PSD took power in early 2017 and tried to decriminalise several corruption offences.

Earlier this year, ruling party legislators pushed changes to the criminal code through parliament, drawing expressions of concern from the European Commission and the U.S. State Department. PSD leader Liviu Dragnea accused Iohannis of being the political patron of the violent protest on Friday.

Iohannis in July signed a decree to remove the popular chief anticorruption prosecutor from her post. The changes are being challenged in the constitutional court.

Under Kovesi's leadership, corruption conviction rates rose sharply in one of the EU's most corruption-plagued members.

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